The

Michigan Traditional Arts

Program

What is Folklife?

Every group with a sense of its own identity is made up of individuals who share in what they traditionally believedoknowmake, and say. Over time, these beliefs and activities become traditions. These traditions are often learned informally from members of a group and they connect group members to each other. Participating in traditions also connects people to their past, is a central part of life in the present, and provides a means to carry cultural knowledge into the future.  These traditions are at the heart of all cultures–including our own–throughout the world.

-adapted from “What is Folklore,” American Folklore Society

Traditional arts are often deeply tied to a sense of place. The natural and cultural resources of a location are interconnected with the creation and meaning of traditional arts. Traditional arts help link people to place and community; they strengthen a sense of identity and uniqueness. Traditional knowledge and skills typically are learned by one individual teaching another. This teaching often takes place in informal settings such as family homes, religious centers, community centers, studios, and workplaces. Many masters of traditional arts are also excellent teachers. These artist/educators help ensure that skills and knowledge about the art and culture are learned and perpetuated by others.

-adapted from “Extraordinary Ordinary People: American Masters of Traditional Arts,” an exhibition co-produced by the Michigan State University Museum and Documentary Arts, Inc.